What is a Screenplay Treatment?

Writing a screenplay treatment

A screenplay treatment can be considered a major stage in the screenwriting process. It is a document that summarizes the essential elements of a screenplay in prose. It does not contain dialogue, slug lines, camera angles, or transitions. While it can be used to better develop your screenplay idea, it is more often used to pitch a film or television project to potential buyers, such as producers or executives. Consequently, the screenplay treatment is an essential part of a screenwriter’s ability to sell a project. 

A screenplay treatment provides the reader with an overview of a screenplay's story, characters, and crucial plot points. Treatments can vary in length and level of detail, but they typically consist of no more than a few pages. While there are writers who will complete a 30-page treatment, this is necessary in most cases. As long as you convey a clear vision for your story and give potential collaborators/buyers a sense of what the finished film will be like, you have done your job well. The treatment can also be used as a tool to further explore and refine your story before setting down to write a full-length screenplay. 

A treatment provides you with the opportunity to work out any issues you may come across with the story's structure, characters, or themes and find the necessary solutions. Think of the treatment as a way of further exploring and refining your story before setting down to write your full-length screenplay. This relatively simple clarifying step could save you much bigger headaches down the road and give you a deeper understanding of the story you are trying to tell. Moreover, once your treatment is finished you can use it to get your foot in the door and potentially secure a meeting with a producer or executive. 

Related: The Importance of a TV Series Bible

In fact, this is a reason to keep your treatments short. The executive or producer reading your treatment will not have time to read a 20 or 30-page document. You just need to sell the reader on the concept, not every nuance of your writing ability. Instead, give them something they can read quickly and understand. This is a much better way to demonstrate your skill as a writer. A famous quote is, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” The same applies to story. Being able to tell your story in the fewest words possible demonstrates your mastery of the topic. This is why the best loglines take so long to write.

When you sit down to write your screenplay treatment it will be important to focus on only the crucial elements of your story. This includes the main character(s), their goals and the obstacles they must overcome. Essentially, you are summarizing your story’s three-act narrative structure and its relevant plot points. Once you have all of the key information in your treatment you can begin trying to include the general tone or style of the story through your prose. Think of this as the finishing touch. You want to be sure your writing reflects your voice. 

Remember, a treatment will never be a substitute for a full-length screenplay, but it can be a valuable tool. The perfect treatment will not only help you further develop your story, it will give you the ability to pitch yourself and your story quickly and efficiently. You may be tempted to skip this step of the writing process, but it will help you in the end. If you’re looking for a little extra guidance, check out Your Screenplay Guy’s official screenplay treatment guide. In it you’ll find an in-depth breakdown and template for a standard 1-2 page treatment. It’s a great way to get started. For other templates and guides offered by Your Screenplay Guy click here.

More: Understanding Plot in Screenwriting

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